The Tail Of Bob Fosse: A Dancer’s Dark Path From Bali To Broadway

BobFosse1720Cropped

ACT I – OVERTURE

Bob Fosse knew, from a very early age, that he was different. While his friends were happy spending their days playing in the forest, carefully combing each other for fleas and flinging their own excrement around with wild abandon, Bob wanted more. Much more.

He knew he wasn’t cut out for a country life but just couldn’t put his dissatisfaction into words. That didn’t change as he grew up. No matter how hard he tried, the words just wouldn’t come.

“Give up,” his uncle Cheetah (who was so named not because of any striking resemblance to Tarzan’s sidekick but for his inability to play poker without cheating) snapped irritably at him one day. “You can’t talk. You’re a monkey. What do you think this is, Planet Of The Apes?”

Bob just looked forlorn and flicked his tail in that way monkeys do when they’re left without a snappy aside.

It was yet another example of the mysteries in his life, of which there were many. His reaction, or lack of, to his own kind, for example.

Girl monkeys just didn’t do it for him. Neither did boy monkeys, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Instead, what really knocked him sideways were the tourist girls who wandered the Monkey Forest. But only a certain type of tourist girl – tall, lean, willowy. Who moved with an effortless grace and fluidity. He found them incredibly sensual although he had no idea why.

He wanted to get to know them, talk to them, find out their names, their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Then he wanted to work them relentlessly, from morning to night, treat them harshly until their spirits broke, then rebuild them as efficient, highly-disciplined dancers until they looked at him with respect and a strange kind of dependent, twisted love.

Again, he had no idea why. It just seemed like a good idea.

Then, one day, he had an epiphany. While wandering the city, he stole through an open window into a hotel room. It took his breath away. It was sumptuous, not a word he’d been able to use with much frequency in the Monkey Forest. The curtains, throw pillows and other soft furnishings were of the finest brocade,, Magazines and coffee table books were all over the room, not just on the coffee table, an effect he found bold and ever so slightly rebellious.

Bob Fosse with his lawyer, Dr Gonzo
Bob Fosse with his lawyer, Dr Gonzo

On one wall was a large screen television. Below, a DVD player. He waved a remote around, pressing buttons until the room was flooded with sound.

The screen leapt to life. Song, dance, bentwood chairs dragged across highly-polished floors, hip rolls, finger snaps. Jazz hands, oh how he loved jazz hands. He tried out the moves, tentatively at first then with increasing confidence and found them strangely familiar. The music bumped and grinded, the songs were sexy and provocative. But, most of all, the cast were dressed exactly as he envisaged those tall, willowy tourist girls in his imagination. It was like this movie was plugged directly into his subconscious, beaming his imagination onto the hotel room wall.

The effect was staggering. He knew not just how to do the stuff on the screen. He could improve on it, make it better. Maybe a few more crescent jumps, for a start. But he could work on the details later.

Bob Fosse recognised there and then that he had to get out of Ubud. The stifling provincial atmosphere was holding him back, smothering his creativity.

If he had to see one more production of Oklahoma or Carousel, he’d screech. And bare his incisors. And don’t even mention Michael Bennett. Bob had ventured to the other side of the Monkey Forest to catch Bennett’s latest production and was, quite frankly, bored. Who wants to see a bunch a dancers standing around talking?

Dance was so much more. Dance was sex. You sweated and groaned, contorted your body into strange positions, opened yourself up in every sense of the word. It was a marathon effort and, when you reached the end, when the excitement and applause reached its peak, it exploded in your head and heart. And you slumped exhausted and thought about doing it all over again. But better.

In a moment of clarity, Bob Fosse knew his future lay far from the Monkey Forest and Ubud. The Big City beckoned. He had the name and it was time he did something with it. It was no coincidence, he thought, that the Monkey Forest Road was one-way and it led straight out of town (if you turned left at Starbucks).

At the local markets, he rummaged around until he found black pants and a shirt, which fit his lean frame perfectly. In the mirror, the combination looked OK but it needed more. Bob was already prematurely bald, though barely out of adolescence; a bowler hat would help but, even in cosmopolitan Ubud, it was too tall an order.

He had to settle for a ratty fez he unearthed in the bargain bin of a thrift store, which gives a pretty good idea of exactly how ratty it was. It was made of brocade like the furnishings in the hotel room, which he took as a good omen. A matching brocade vest completed the look.

Bob examined himself in a full length mirror. He tipped his fez rakishly forward on his forehead and lit a cigarette; Bob habitually chain-smoked which, for a simian covered in body hair, had its pitfalls. The brocade wouldn’t be so flammable.

It was just right. He rolled his hips and snapped his fingers. Applause thundered in his head. He was ready.

Bob Fosse recounts his tumultuous live to his Boswell
Bob Fosse recounts his tumultuous life to his Boswell

So Bob Fosse left Ubud, hitching a ride towards his fame and fortune. In his hometown, he was a very small monkey in a very big forest but, once he reached Kuta, well, he soon released that being different had its advantages.

Chicks dug him, they hung on his every word and, on Ladies Nights, when the 50,000 Rupiah arak cocktails flowed like the brackish brown sludge that passed for water in the garbage-choked rivers (which is to say, not very well), they loved him even more. He was a monkey, sure, but a naughty monkey and chicks went crazy for that sort of thing.

He woke the next morning in a small, hot hotel room, with an agonising headache akin to a slim-bladed knife relentlessly probing his eyeballs. His mouth felt like the bottom of an Asian palm civet’s cage. It couldn’t get any worse than this, could it?

Then he noticed he was almost squashed between two naked Finnish backpackers. Memories of the previous night, a procession of crowded noisy nightclubs, raucous laughter, flirting, smouldering gazes, and how he’d drunkenly acted out every last dance move from the “Cell Block Tango” while improvising his own improvements.

As drunk as he was, he recognised he didn’t have blood in his veins so much as glitter.

Bob Fosse grinned a thin, humourless grin and slapped the closest sinuous rump within reach. They didn’t have tails but he could get used to that.

“Wake up, sweet cheeks. There’s lots of work to do,” he growled and lit the first cigarette of the day. The amphetamines could wait till later.

One of the twins, he couldn’t remember which one, woke slowly and favoured him with a lazy smile. She scratched Bob behind the ear. He could get used to that as well.

TO BE CONTINUED

As told to David Latta. © words and photos David Latta 2014

 

Advertisements

Moving To Bali? Here’s A List Of Things To Bring – And Not

photo-chicago-union-station-platform-woman-sitting-on-suitcase-b-and-w-1960

NOTE: This will be a gradually evolving post, updated as I find new items. Check in regularly. This version updated 11/9/2014.

When it comes to relocating to your new life in Bali, it’s inevitable that there will be things you’ll need to bring with you. It all depends very much on where you’re coming from and what you’ll miss the most. In the months leading up to my move to Bali, I posted questions on the expat sites, asking for advice. Some of the replies were actually useful. Someone suggested I bring a garlic press as they weren’t available in Bali.

Now I’m here, I can confirm that there is no such thing as a garlic press in Bali. In fact, high-quality kitchen utensils of any kind seem a little thin on the ground. If you’re a serious home cook, and you’re packing up a lot of other heavy stuff to ship to Bali, then go right ahead and include most of your kitchen, even the Scapans. Maybe leave out the small electricals for the time being although a friend swears by bringing back kettles, toasters and the like from Target or Kmart; they’ll be cheaper and better value than anything in Bali. And power adaptor plugs are cheap enough.

What to bring:

A sense of humour: seriously, you’ll need this. It’s no use being the precious expat who complains endlessly about the lack of efficiency, the time it takes to get things done, what Bali doesn’t have that their home country does. If you don’t like Bali, get the hell out and leave those of us with even the merest smidge of whimsy to enjoy our existences. We’re here because we enjoy this place, quirky though it is.

Steam iron: one thing I did notice is that the stores I’ve looked in so far, such as Carrefour, etc, have really crappy irons. And I’ve found very few steam irons. If you intend to live in shorts and T-shirts, and think your body heat will be enough to iron out any wrinkles (if that’s even a passing concern to you), then ignore the iron advice. When you send out your washing to the local laundry, your clothes will come back ironed anyway But, for some of us, details matter.

luggage-vintage

High-quality towels: So far I’ve checked out Carrefour and the Hypermart at the Mal Bali Galleria (yep, creative spelling) and the towels are crap. Thin, nasty cotton, the sort you find in a $AU30 a night Kuta hotel. If you’re accustomed to the thick, plush, indulgent (and absorbent) variety bring your own.

I ended up buying towels etc from Informa, a furniture and homewares store above Ace Hardware at the Mal Bali Galleria. Informa had the best quality and best prices. I recommended them.

High-quality sheets: Ditto as above. With the heavy discounting on quality manchester in Australia (and the United States and, most likely, a lot of other places) these days, pretty much every sentient being sleeps on 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and pays no more than $AU150 for a queen-sized set. The sheets I’ve seen so far in Bali appear to be manufactured from leftover chipboard.

I carefully checked out Informa and Matahari at the Bali Galleria,  Carrefour, LotteMart and a few other places and eventually bought a sheet set from Carrefour. which had the best quality in my budget. It should be noted that a sheet set in Indonesia comprises a fitted bottom sheet, two pillow cases and two bolster cases. No flat top sheet. I haven’t been here long enough to understand the bolster thing and I doubt I would get if someone tried to explain. Chalk it up to cultural differences.

biba-rooftop-garden

As for the institutional absence of top sheets, I don’t get that either. I went hunting and eventually found them at Matahari, a vast department store crowded with stock and staff but the only people who could even vaguely be customers were on their way somewhere else. Matahari’s prices could have something to do with that.

Top sheets were ridiculously expensive, much more than fitted bottom sheets. For the same price, I bought a duvet and cover.

One more note: there’s an oversupply of garishly patterned sheets. And I like garish but even I draw the line; these crimes against design were not only beyond that line but far over the horizon. It may be that the WTO needs to examine a possible conspiracy to dump the world’s most eye-searingly awful sheets on the Indonesian market. Luckily, retailers in Bali have conspired to price them so astronomically that they will remain forever locked within retail storerooms. For that, the people of the world should be eternally grateful.

Laundry stain remover: Getting the laundry done in Bali is amazingly cheap. It’s priced by weight. The first time, I had the following washed: nine T-shirts, two shirts, two pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans and nine pairs of underwear. It cost Rp35,500 (about $AU3.18). One of the T-shirts returned with a stain intact. Fair enough, most hotel laundries aren’t good at stains either.

On my next supermarket visit, I planned to pick up Preen, Vanish or something similar. I’d forgotten that a local supermarket would have all their products in Indonesian; I eventually found a small section of what could have been stain removers, and one that was packaged and labelled uncannily like Vanish, pink bottle and all. Bought it, liberally doused the stain and sent the T-shirt off with the next load of laundry. The stain returned. It was only a food grease stain but it’s been impervious so far. Next friend who visits, I’ll be asking for a spray bottle of Sard OxyPlus.

village_people2

Insect repellent: I’ve tried the local stuff and wish I’d brought a can of Aerogard from Australia. That stuff would halt ebola. And with Dengue Fever and the Chikungunya virus an increasing problem, it’s better to be safe.

Food: There will undoubtedly be food you love and you’ll wonder whether it’s readily available in Bali. For the most part, the answer is yes, although that comes with some notable exceptions.

Generally speaking, grocery staples are ridiculously cheap or cheaper, at least compared with my hometown of Sydney, Australia. I’ve shopped extensively at the Bintang Supermarket at Seminyak and Hardy’s at Sanur, from which the following prices are drawn.

Shopping in Indonesia is a mix of familiar brands made locally along with those imported from around the world. Kellogs breakfast cereals are manufactured in Indonesia; Corn Flakes is around $AU2.00 a box. My favourite is Kellogg Honey Crunch Corn Flakes, a 220 gram box selling for $AU2.35. Ditto for coffee. The local Indonesian coffee, the best known of which is Kapal Api, is very finely ground and can be prepared like instant coffee but tastes far better. Various brands of coffee, in beans or ground for plungers, French presses, dripolators, etc, is well-priced. Two hundred grams of the ground Excelso Arabia Gold is $AU3.31.

Retro-supermarket-right-size-copy

The stand-out purchase for me is Elle-Vire salted (with non-salted also available) butter from France. Heaven on a stick for just $AU3.74 for 200 grams. New Zealand butter is also widely available. As is milk; I buy the Ultra Low Fat Milk in unrefrigerated long-life (otherwise known as Tetra) packs. It’s imported from New Zealand. One litre is $AU1.33.

If you can’t do without peanut butter, the Skippy brand from the United States, costs $AU3.26 for a 340 gram jar. Jams (jellies or preserves, whatever you want to call them) are readily available.

Yet a small jar of Vegemite, which many Australians really can’t survive without, costs about $AU15.00.

Another big expense is granola, especially the tasty and undoubtedly high-fat high-sugar American kind, is a similar price.

On the personal hygiene side, a two-pack of Dove soap costs just under $AU1.00, Nivea Intensive Moisture Body Lotion in a 200ml bottle at $AU1.88, and the 195 gram can of Gillette Mach 3 Shaving Gel is $AU4.48 (at that time on special for $AU3.66).

Note: The Australian dollar during this period was hovering around $AU1 = Rp10,500.

piginthecity

Bacon: This gets its own section by virtue of the fact that bacon is my all-time favourite food group. It’s something I care deeply about, giving me much pleasure and enjoyment, and not in any creepy way. Bacon in Bali, however, is nothing to look forward to.

OK, you’ll say, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Bacon isn’t on the agenda. But Bali is largely Hindu and one of the signature dishes is Babi Guling, roast baby suckling pig. The argument over which restaurant or warung has the best Babi Guling never ends, and flairs as passionately as discussing football in Italy.

Babi Guling is pretty special but, for a lover of all things porcine, ordering bacon and eggs for breakfast is a one-way toboggan ride to Disappointment City. The high, tangled mounds of juicy, tangy bacon available in any Australian café translates in the Bali experience to a couple of dry squat pieces of some substance that could be generously described as meat if you weren’t already struck dumb by such inhuman culture shock.

Sorry to say, western boys and girls, but bacon in Bali ain’t going to do it for you. But it’s a small price to pay for living in Paradise.

Cheese1

Cheese: Unless, of course, you’re also a cheese fan. In which case, it may be best if you stay at home. There have been times in the past when I’ve brought emergency packages of cheese for my resident Bali friends. The supermarkets, and even specialist places like the dependable Bali Deli, do stock cheese but it’s a little on the pedestrian side. The major stocks are Kraft Cheddar, various Australian mass-produced varieties such as Tasty and Mild, a smidgeon of brie and Castello but little if any that would pass a Frenchman’s lips. What there is, costs the earth.

The climate, of course, works against cheese. At room temperature, it’s unpleasant and just about inedible. However, if you must have cheese, beg any visiting friends and family to bring some with them.

And Leave At Home:

Leather: I hate to say it, ladies (and sartorially-aware gentlemen) but your leather shoes won’t last long in Bali (and not because your houseboy will be doing Shirley Bassey impersonations while you’re out). Don’t think that air-conditioning will make a difference. The air-conditioning doesn’t run 24/7. Your first power bill will convey that particular snippet of wisdom. It’ll be turned off whenever you’re not there and a room warms up pretty quickly in the tropics. Factor in the wet season, when the humidity soars, and it’s adios Aperlei, so long Sergio Rossi, goodbye Gucci.

The same goes for leather bags, leather jackets and any other pieces of leather apparel. Along with that fetching Tom of Finland outfit you like to wear. Just as well. It’s the Supreme Being’s way of telling you that leather bars aren’t big in Bali.

Books: It almost broke my heart to leave my library, amassed over a lifetime, behind. But just as leather doesn’t survive well in the tropics, either do books. Save a lot of heartache. Leave them in safe hands, as I did.

karl-lagerfeld-book-wall

It may seem like there’s a lot more to bring than you’d initially think but this is my list after just six weeks. There’s also a little matter of just how many BHP or Apple shares you’ll have to sell to fund the shipping. It may be as simple as choosing the right airline. Low-cost airlines may have cheap fares but will hit you up big for luggage.

It’s worth noting that the Economy Class baggage allowance on Garuda Airlines is 30kg, at least from Australia. Garuda is much improved these days and, from someone who has flown just about every airline in the world, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. and I will for just this reason. Out of Australia, I’ve never had any problems with Jetstar or Virgin either but the extra 10kg with Garuda is certainly worthy of consideration. And, at the time, the Garuda fare was the same as the cheapies.

© words David Latta 2014